Debate Magazine

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (490)

Posted on the 16 October 2021 by Markwadsworth @Mark_Wadsworth

One objection that often floats about is that while you can establish reasonably reliable relative values for generic types of land and buildings - urban homes, factories, offices, retail premises, farmland etc, there will always be a few outliers.
I agree, things like stately homes and theme parks in the middle of the countryside (or ski-runs in the Cairngorms or whatever outlandish examples people come up with) aren't bought and sold very often. It's difficult to say what they'd sell for or rent for, and how that would be split between building value and location value.
So what?
Even with conceptually simple taxes like income tax, there are endless gray areas. Who is and isn't UK resident? Where's the line between a gift out of gratitude and a payment for services? What's a taxable dividend and what's a non-taxable return of capital? If a shareholder also works for a company, is the money they get from the company dividend, wages or a loan?
There are thousands of pages of legislation, guidance and legal cases on all these issues; it's sometimes impossible to understand why a Tax Tribunal decided that somebody's receipt from a certain source was taxable or not, and sometimes they decide the opposite way round to what you'd initially expect, given the basic facts. But they are the Tribunals and I'm not.
Nonetheless, the bulk of what you'd think is taxable income is actually taxed; some people wriggle through loopholes; others have to pay tax on stuff where the sensible person would assume it's non-taxable. Some tax is never paid and HMRC just writes it off. Overall collection rates about 90% of theoretical receipts. And we accept this as 'good enough'.
Conversely, LVT assessments for 98% of land by value are a doddle i.e. developed land in urban areas where there is plenty of data on rents and selling prices. Farmland is about 2% by value, that's not too difficult either (the tax would be tens of pounds per acre per year at most, unless we just exempt it). And collection rates will be very high - who cares where the owner lives? If they run up massive arrears, the land and buildings just get auctioned off and they get the balance.
As to stately homes and theme parks, valuers just have to make up some general rules or haggle on a case-by-case basis. If they end up getting the benefit of the doubt and are under-taxed, so what? Most of the stately homes which the National Trust owns were given away by owners who couldn't afford the running costs, and even with their membership and entry fees most of them aren't particularly profitable, so they can't be worth much, possibly next to nothing i.e. not worth taxing.

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